…there is little mystery about how the latest culture war — over gay marriage — will turn out. Opponents of same-sex marriages may have most of the public on their side for now, but they’ve already all but lost this battle.
How do I know? Simply by looking at the arguments being advanced by both sides. Advocates of same-sex marriage speak in the powerful language of civil rights and liken their cause to that of African Americans fighting anti-miscegenation laws in years past. And what do opponents say in response? Once upon a time, the case would have been open and shut: Sodomy is a sin, period. Many people may still believe that, but that’s no longer a tenable argument in our secularized politics.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws last year. The Episcopal Church has appointed an openly gay bishop. Many newspapers carry the equivalent of wedding announcements for gays. Same-sex kisses, once shockingly daring, are now almost as common on TV as commercials for Levitra or Prozac. Given this seismic cultural shift, anyone who makes avowedly moral arguments against homosexuality now gets treated the same way homosexuals were treated only a few years ago — as a sex-mad pervert.
Traditionalists have tried to put forward various nonmoral arguments against gay marriage, but none is particularly convincing. They argue, first, that we shouldn’t tamper with thousands of years of tradition that holds that marriage is between a man and a woman. But 141 years ago we tampered with an equally old tradition: slavery. Their second argument is the slippery slope — first gay marriage gets legalized, then polygamy, pederasty, incest and who knows what. But this kind of reductio ad absurdum can be applied to just about anything. If liquor is legal for adults, why not for children? Society always draws the line somewhere.
The final and strongest argument of gay marriage opponents: Don’t let courts or a handful of mayors change the law on their own. Let’s debate this democratically. Fine. But that will only delay the legalization of gay marriage; it won’t stop it in most places. The Massachusetts judges whose diktat led to gay marriages in that state starting this week aren’t operating in outer space. They are only slightly ahead of the societal consensus, just as the Supreme Court was only slightly ahead of the societal consensus when it legalized abortion in 1973. Nowadays, no matter what the court says, there isn’t a state in the union that would illegalize abortion (though some might pass more restrictions than the justices would allow). In a few years, that may be true of gay marriage as well.